Travel by Steamer

Travel by steamboat

Prior to the Civil War  railroads were expanding rapidly in every direction, but in 1857 the furthest anyone could travel by rail was one of a few towns on the Mississippi.  At that point travelers had to join a wagon train, buy passage with the U.S mail, or buy supplies and set out by horse, alone. None of these options were particularly pleasant and all could be dangerous. Travel by steamboat on the Missouri was also dangerous and expensive, but the route was heavily travelled.

An example of how dangerous it was to travel by steamer: The steamboat Sultana blew up in 1865, killing more than 1,800 people. The Titanic had fewer fatalities.

Sultana Helena Arkansas 1865
The ill-fated Sultana in Arkansas. Library of Congress

The Missouri River was difficult to navigate and especially dangerous for that reason.  The map below is of the Missouri between St. Louis and Westport, where people bound for California or Washington disembarked. As did the main characters in Little Birds.

Arrow Rock played a role in emigration westward and is important to the novel’s plot.

map, Missouri River
Missouri River portion of the Santa Fe trail. Click for larger image.

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